Which Foods (and Drinks) Get Better as You Eat More, and Which Get Worse?

(Photo: Aimee Plesa)

(Photo: Aimee Plesa)

A reader named Robb Stokar wrote in with the following question: “Which foods and/or drinks have the greatest diminishing marginal returns and which have the greatest increasing marginal returns?”

Wonderfully, Robb answered the question himself:

Diminishing food:  pancakes. Those first few bites of syrup-y and butter-y goodness are like angels singing. Then, about 1/2 way through, finishing the stack becomes a chore. And if you actually finish the stack, hello food coma. (Credit for the origin of this idea goes to my brother, Jason.)

Diminishing drink: Bloody Mary. First few sips are great, but by the bottom of the glass much of the spice has settled and you get a watery mouthful of pepper and celery salt.

Increasing drink: wine or whiskey, provided very little ice. Wine is self-explanatory, but some advocates say a little water “opens up” the whiskey and a cooler temperature eliminates that alcohol “bite.” I agree.

Increasing food: Indian or something similarly spiced. I believe that with each successive bite, the diner gets a better flavor profile and you can fully appreciate the dish.

I am guessing not everyone agrees 100 percent with Rob’s answers. Do feel free to provide your own. To start the conversation, here are mine:

Diminishing food: tofu fashioned as faux meat; the first couple bites seem like culinary alchemy; the rest — rubbery, lukewarm, grotesquely seasoned — are like a bad joke.

Diminishing drink: milk, because the first cold gulp is fantastic but as the temperature rises, the taste becomes too “milky.”

Increasing drink: I like Robb’s choice of whiskey here, but maybe that is because I like whiskey — plus which, inebriation may offer a more heightened increasing return than other beverages. 

Increasing food: a good burger, whose sundry ingredients — meat, vegetables, condiments, roll — have by the last few bites become so thoroughly commingled as to produce an utterly delectable finale.


You can't be like pancakes... all exciting at first, but then by the end you're fu*kin' sick of em. -Mitch Hedberg

Tony Rozensky

Pineapple is definitely a diminishing taste. You inevitably hit the bitter part.


Because of the nature of taste (mostly olfactory sensors coupled a few signals from taste buds), we typically only taste the first bite of any food. A few dishes change nature as we eat 'em, though, so the aforementioned whiskey (especially with a single ice cube which dilutes the drink as you consume it) or occasionally ice cream, which changes consistency and sometimes has a cone attached.


Battered, deep-fried fish immediately leapt to mind as a diminishing food. The batter and grease build to a terrible crescendo...


Any dish with truffle oil has high diminishing marginal returns.

I agree with the previous poster who said that you get increasing marginal returns out of a dish that changes as you consume it.


I have to agree wine is ok as long as there's very little ice. By very little I mean "not much", not "extremely small cubes".


Are you kidding? Milk gets better as it warms. I like to pour a glass and let it sit a few minutes before I take that first sip, so it is not ice cold and you can actually taste it.

And the milk at the bottom of the cereal bowl... Best part of breakfast. As for the cereal itself, first few bites are dry. The middle bites with a mix of softened and still crunchy bits are best. The last few soggy spoonfuls are mostly about getting the cereal out of the way to drink that tasty last bit of milk.


You must mean dry cereal. Oatmeal tends to "congeal" (maybe there is a better description) as it cools while eating so the last dregs are like "packed globs".


Diminishing food: Popcorn - the first few warm handfuls are amazing. Airy, a crunchy butter and salt perfection. As the popcorn cools it becomes difficult to force down the last of the batch. Cold, crunchy grease that leaves a sick feeling in the stomach and hulls in the teeth and gums.


You could try eating just plain popcorn, without the butter & salt. Or try it with grated cheese...


Increasing Food: Hot Fudge Sundae. The ice cream melts as the fudge and nuts and whipped cream combine into a state of awesomeness. Even if it is almost all melted, it is still delicious.


Increasing: Root beer float. When the ice cream melts into the root beer at the end, so good.


SJD - Is this why there is initially no diminishing utility when I go to my favorite Indian buffet? That is, until I over eat, and I experience the "boom and bust" effect.


Dimishing Drink: Slurpee. Starts out delicious, but ends up being diluted and mostly ice with no syrup. Same issue for Sno-cones (is that technically a food?).

New Category - Maintaining Food: Candy Bar. Delicious from the first bite to the last. No significant change in state throughout the eating process.


Increasing food- BBQ. The moist middle building toward the crispy burnt ends.

Decreasing food- Bath Salts. Because it seems all fun and then next thing you know youre chewing on some guys face while being tazed.


The ultimate increasing food: Pizza Hut deep dish pizza. The cheesy tip is pretty satisfying, but by the time you get to that greasy, crunchy crust, you're ready to beg on your knees and cry for more. I swear they put crack in the crust for that very reason.

Caleb b

Increasing: A good bourbon with a single ice cube

Decreasing: a good cigar, they all turn at some point

Same: chips & salsa, guacamole

Decreasing: Capt. Crunch cereal. By the end, you feel like you've been chewing glass.

Increasing: ice cream cone bc of the little bit of last cone you get at the end.

Same: pizza, spaghetti

Decreasing: donuts. The first bite is great, the third one is horrible.

Decreasing: paddle boating, looks fun from afar, sucks to actually do.

Decreasing: that very first college girlfriend/boyfriend. They're cute and new, then you find out the don't know who The Beatles are, and you dump them. (or they find out you only care about sports and politics and they dump you)




does alcohol dull our taste buds or no?


Simple solution to the milk problem: ice cubes. I always put ice in my milk because, like you, I like my milk to be cold to the last gulp.

For some reason people think putting ice in milk is weird, but I don't see how it's different from any other drink.